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Orlando Sentinel (Florida)


by Robyn Shelton, Sentinel Medical Writer
Oct 12, 2004

David Mathis came to the Amtrak station on Monday with two suitcases, six written prescriptions and his doctors' blessings.

The 77-year-old Ocoee man boarded the so-called "Rx Express" for Canada, where he hopes to buy his medications for less than he pays in Florida. The trip is organized by a consumer group that is pushing for lower drug prices in the United States.

"My doctors have been very supportive," said Mathis, who estimates that he spends about $300 a month on medications for a heart condition and other ailments. He hopes to save as much as 50 percent.

"My 97-year-old mother passed away just last year and her drug costs were about $500 a month," Mathis said. "So I'm well aware of how high drug costs can break a budget."

The nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights chartered two private rail cars that were added to the northbound Amtrak train. Picking passengers up along the East Coast, the group is paying for 25 riders to make the journey, stay overnight in Toronto, then fly back to their home cities.

The riders will pay for their own medications. It's illegal to bring prescription drugs into the United States from other countries, but U.S. officials say they will not stop people from taking home small quantities for personal use.

The Food and Drug Administration warns that the practice can be unsafe, because the agency cannot verify the authenticity of the drugs bought in other countries.

The foundation organized a similar excursion on the West Coast last month, but it doesn't plan to make this a regular event.

"The point of this trip is to make sure we don't have to have a trip to Canada in the future," said Jerry Flanagan, with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Flanagan said the U.S. government should go to a "bulk purchasing" plan, which is how Canada keeps its drug prices comparatively lower. In that scenario, the U.S. government would negotiate with drug companies for the prices they could set.
CONTACT: Robyn Shelton can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5487.